Human beings and their behaviours have always fascinated me, and had psychology been available to me at school, I am sure I would have chosen to study it then.
Growing up in the ’70s I went to a very “normal” comprehensive school in Wimborne Minster, Dorset, moving to Southampton to begin my nursing education when I was 19 years old. When I got married four years later, I moved to Portsmouth with my husband. When my first son, Joshua, was born, I was in the fortunate position of becoming a full-time mum; two years later, my second son, Daniel, arrived. Returning to nursing was not so easy with young children; it was made trickier when Joshua was diagnosed with autism.
Inevitably, circumstances change, and whilst in my 30s I needed to plan my return to work. I decided to do something that interested me but would also work around my family. I studied for an undergraduate degree in music that enabled me to work at my local college. Regular teaching hours suited me better than the changing shift pattern of nursing. I spent nearly a decade teaching and working with adults with learning difficulties, alongside A-level music teaching and tutoring.
Perhaps because of Joshua, I felt comfortable teaching people with barriers to learning. Having one son with autism and one without was amazing because I saw how differently they developed; from language development to the way they saw life more generally, their understanding of things was so completely different. Joshua needed to be taught so many things (such as how questions have answers) that Daniel just seemed to know.
My personal life and professional experiences, both through nursing and teaching (latterly as a teaching mentor), opened my mind to the various facets of human behaviour manifested in so many different personalities. When the opportunity presented itself, I decided to formalise my understanding of this area by starting a master’s in psychology.
When I started this journey, I knew I didn’t have much time to commit and I wanted to make sure that my decision to further my education did not get in the way of the regular activities Joshua and I did together, like going to the marina to watch the boats and having a coffee. Daniel needed less from me at this point as he had married a couple of years earlier. I started looking at online programmes, and I saw there was much more flexibility compared to classroom-based options because I could study wherever I was, whenever I wanted.
The online MSc in Psychology programme I am studying at the University of Roehampton, London, is accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS). Accreditations like this mean that I’ll earn a qualification that meets professional standards, and gives me access to additional benefits such as affiliate memberships after I have completed my degree.
Since a significant number of the students are also working full-time, Roehampton splits the curriculum among eight programme modules. Students have 10 weeks to complete each one, apart from the final 24-week research module. A self-confessed dinosaur when it comes to computers, I was worried at first about how I would keep up. But once I started, I found it to be relatively straightforward and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my education.
The structure of an online programme encourages you to regularly engage with your classmates and faculty members using the online classroom through which active participation extends learning. The diverse make-up of the class has challenged my thinking and enabled me to think more broadly about the practical application of the concepts being studied.
Studying online is a truly global experience and I appreciate hearing opinions that differ from my own. Whereas in a traditional physical classroom some students may be less inclined to put their ideas forward, the online environment requires you to present your thoughts, thus allowing you to see issues from different and reasonable perspectives that you might not necessarily hear in the UK. Feeling comfortable about sharing ideas and best practices has made building relationships very easy even though we are located all over the world.
In addition to the class discussions, Roehampton offers opportunities to connect with one another outside the classroom (such as through Inspirenet, a social-media platform that allows you to engage with the wider online student community). Like students, faculty members are also based around the world and often use platforms such as video, instant messaging and Skype to connect with students. Whether it is researching a particular topic or taking time to have real-time conversations with your peers and faculty members about interests apart from your studies, this social element helps build a community of learners that also expands your professional network of global and experienced contacts.
Studying online has helped enrich my career and has significantly widened my knowledge of the way the human mind works. I have applied my education to my job in real time as a teacher, teaching Junior Music (Years 4 to 6), GCSE Music and A-level Psychology, as well as acting as a Year 9 Assistant Form Tutor. The programme has allowed me to think more analytically about understanding students with mental illness and learning difficulties. I decided to focus my dissertation on the importance of friendship at times of transition (pre-adolescence) and explore how friendships impact young adolescents with mental health issues. I hope to use these findings to impact future teaching programmes and staff training at the school where I currently work.
While working toward my master’s has not always been easy, what I have loved most about studying my postgraduate programme online is the flexibility to learn without sacrificing my important roles as a mother and a teacher.
Enjoyed reading Paula’s story? Why not try studying an online course too?
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